The first thing that struck me about Hever castle is how spacious its grounds are. It reminded me of Hampton court in that sense. There was a yew maze (which we didn’t go in, it was full of screaming children), an enormous lake, fountains, an Italian garden, and beautiful rose gardens. Below are some photos of the aforementioned.
The lake and fountains are not Tudor, but were created by William Astor, a wealthy American, who purchased the neglected castle in 1903.
I initially thought that many of the Greco-Roman statues were imitations, like we might buy from the garden centre, but they are actually all original, and were shipped from Roman ruins!
Although we went on a weekday, the grounds were already full of school trips, and visiting people, who kept wandering into my shots and ruining them. It was also strangely cold that day-only 16 degrees when previous days had been 25 or up. Needless to say, we walked quite briskly through the sumptuous gardens, eager to get back indoors! There is definitely more to see that we missed.
Hever castle is best known as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. I was initially surprised at its size, for a castle, it's not particularly large. But it was converted from a medieval fort into a manor house by the Boleyn family while still retaining some of its fortifications, such as the portcullis, which is the oldest in Europe. There's also a moat, which is full of koi fish. It made me think of the scene in 'I Capture the Castle' when they all swim around the moat while the vicar plays piano. Indeed, much of Hever castle made me reminisce about that book. It was quite a romantic sort of place.
Inside you are greeted by thick walls and wood panelling, and it was several degrees warmer inside than out. I can imagine it being quite cosy in winter with the fireplaces lit. Unfortunately, as Hever Castle is quite narrow and small on the inside (although I’d imagine it was quite spacious in Tudor times!), and we were sandwiched between a school trip on one side, and some eager tourists behind us, I didn’t get to linger or take quite as many photos as I would have liked. However, this is what I did see.
This was one of the entrance rooms, and covered in portraits of dignitaries. Unfortunately I didn't see any portraits of the Boleyn family hanging there, which I thought was a little odd, but the castle changed hands many times after the disgraced Thomas Boleyn passed away. It was actually given to Henry VII's fourth wife, Anne of Cleaves, in a divorce settlement, although she didn't live there. It passed hands many times after that, before it was eventually bought and restored by William Astor.
This was the living room, obviously the furniture in it wasn't from the Tudor period. It was a lovely blend of Tudor, and more of a 20s style.
The great hall can comfortably seat 25, and is still available for hire today. The tapestry in the left of the photo dates from the 1330s. If it belonged to me, I would worry about some drunk guest wiping their hands on it!
The castle is full of collected items. I rather liked this tapestry mirror, and quite want one for my house.
Hever Castle is where Anne Boleyn met Henry VII for the first time, and sent him a letter of admiration, which he replied to. The letters between the two of them are on display in one of the manors rooms. Apparently Henry stayed in Bolebroke Castle, nearby, as well as Hever, while they were courting.
This is the room Henry VII stayed in when he visited Hever. The wood ceiling is the original from 1270. I wish they built houses to last like this nowadays.
I'm not sure Elizabeth I, Anne and Henry's daughter and Queen of England, ever stayed at Hever. I do recall reading somewhere that she spent time there as a young child, but I can't find any evidence of it. Whatever the case may be, there are two portraits of her hanging there.
This is a portrait of Elizabeth I from 1558, so she would have been 25, the same year she became queen. I've never seen this portrait before.
I'm sure this is the image of Elizabeth we're all more familiar with. This picture dates from 1580.
Of course no castle would be complete without a torture chamber, and there were several, wicked looking instruments and weapons on display. Above is a headsman's axe.
I was quite taken by this nasty-looking device which the sign told me was a 'man trap' but not what it was used for. I assume it was used for (no kidding) catching men- perhaps for poachers? Or the Tudor equivalent of a mine?
Above is a full suit of Tudor armour dating from the 16th century.
The rest of the castle contained information about William Astor, who rescued the castle at the turn of the century. It was sold again in the 1980s to the Worthing family, who own it today.
I'll admit I was just as impressed to see this old wireless, and the early television, as I was with the Tudor artifacts. Clearly I am easily pleased.
I really enjoyed my visit to Hever Castle. I could quite imagine Anne Boylen as a young woman, sitting curled up on one of the window seats, nose pressed against the glass, and marvelling at the King and all his coterie riding into the yard. Little was she to know that her girlish admiration was to change the course of English history forever.
Above: The lady herself, Anne Boleyn.